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Art, Culture & Respect

Hey artsy/creative people,

I’d love to hear how you integrate cultural ideas into your work and if you have any thoughts on how to do this respectfully. I ask because there’s a concept/imagery from another culture that really resonates with me right now, and I’d like to explore it in my work. However, it’s a pretty deep/sacred thing and I don’t want to “cheapen” it.

Sometimes I see people imitate (or even just appropriate) my dad’s culture and it makes me feel angry and embarassed for them. My ancestors’ spiritual values have evolved over many (many) generations — some people dedicate their whole lives to learning and living these ideals. For example, dancers in the sundance ceremony often carry scars which reflect tremendous sacrifice and commitment to their community. So when some rich kid from the big city goes and gets scarification done in a nice sterile studio — as opposed to learning about the customs, making the corresponding sacrifices, and you know, actually DOING THE DANCE — it kind of belittles the whole thing (even if that’s not the intent). That said, I certainly don’t want to approach someone else’s beliefs in a superficial or irreverent way.

By the same token, we don’t live in a vacuum. Most of us are exposed to, and even influenced by other cultures on a daily basis. The term “culture” speaks to a community’s history, ideology, spirituality, music and art (and food! although that kind of falls under the “art” category in my book ;o) . These are all wonderful things to enjoy and explore — so why hoard them? Hopefully, sharing and understanding each others’ cultures offers humanity a way to connect and work together for a better world.

So my questions are, how do you approach the use of cultural ideals or symbolism in YOUR art? Do you strive for authenticity or loose interpretation? Do you let it inspire you but create your own thang, or?? Do you study the subject extensively, or just explore what it means to you? How do you walk that fine line of drawing inspiration without appropriating?